Wake leaders advance policy on police questioning students at school

khui@newsobserver.comOctober 1, 2013 

  • Naming Wake County’s newest magnet school

    The Wake County school board voted Tuesday to make Kingswood Elementary School in Cary the district’s newest magnet school.

    Starting in the 2014-15 school year, Kingswood will offer a Montessori program. It would replace the Montessori program being phased out of Poe Elementary School in Raleigh.

    Montessori education is built around the idea that children benefit from doing hands-on activities. Children are given the freedom, within limits, to learn at their own pace and do what interests them. The teachers act as observers who keep them on track.

    School board members were also briefed on the creation of a new school-district working group formed to improve conditions at schools in Knightdale.

    An outside audit of four Knightdale schools found issues such as inexperienced teachers and lack of resources resulting in problems such as running out of food and buses not getting to school on time. It highlighted concerns that eastern Wake leaders said have existed in the schools for years.

— Wake County school board members agreed Tuesday to move forward with a policy that would require school principals to be present if a parent isn’t there when police officers question students on campus.

The school board is considering the policy, which would regulate how schools respond when law enforcement officers want to question, search and arrest students at schools. The policy is being described as a way to ensure students’ rights are protected while giving principals guidance on how to handle police requests.

“We’re trying to look out for the children and avoid an interference in the learning environment,” said school board attorney Jonathan Blumberg, who helped draft the new policy.

Every Wake high school and most middle schools have an armed law enforcement officer, called a school resource officer, assigned to its campus under agreements between the school system and the local agencies.

The new policy would not cover these school resource officers. It would deal with other law enforcement officers who come to schools.

The policy says that police are expected to interview students away from school regarding non-school-related matters, unless officers have a warrant or unless they find that questioning, searching or arresting a student on school property is necessary.

Other provisions state:

• “All attempts should be made to avoid embarrassing the students” by having questioning or arrests in the principal’s office out of view of students.

• Officers should wait in the principal’s office for school personnel to get a student “unless immediate intervention by the officer is necessary to prevent injury, a serious crime, or flight of the student.”

• Before police questioning, a school administrator must make “reasonable attempts” to contact the student’s parent or guardian except in cases of suspected child abuse or neglect, or when the parent is implicated in the investigation.

• If the parent can’t be reached before questioning begins, the principal or the person’s designee must be present unless the officer directs otherwise for safety reasons.

• Schools must keep records of when officers who are not school resource officers come onto school property to search, arrest or question a student.

“We need to give guidance to our staff about what they should or should not be doing,” said school board member Tom Benton.

Board member Kevin Hill added that the policy is especially needed because the district has so many new principals.

Russ Smith, the school district’s senior director of security, said the policy was developed after speaking with community members and law enforcement.

Board member Deborah Prickett said she backs students’ rights. But she questioned whether the policy is needed.

“We seem to have good relations with all the police,” Prickett said. “I don’t want our principals to have another hoop to jump through.”

In an informal vote, the board agreed to move ahead with the policy and add it to a future meeting.

Just outside the board meeting room, several groups held a news conference to call for a moratorium on out-of-school suspensions for lower-level offenses such as violating the dress code. Similar events are being held by groups across the country this week to rail against what they say is an excessive police presence in schools and overly harsh discipline policies.

Several speakers later walked into the board meeting to repeat their concerns

“We demand that youth stop being criminalized and be recognized as individuals with needs,” said Ramiyah Robinson, a student from Raleigh.

Hui: 919-829-4534

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